The setting sun provides a background as the Sanders display lights up on Monday.

The Blue Creek Christmas includes a tribute to those who have served our country.

Christmas officially began for three of Vinton’s youngest aspiring photographers on Monday, when three granddaughters buckled into Grandpa’s SUV and headed toward the Sanders, Kersten and Blue Creek Christmas light displays.

And, of course, McDonald’s.

Since we departed at just before 5, it was McDonald’s first, and to save time and make the ride seem shorter, we went to the drive-thru before heading south to the Sanders farm, where Dwight and Bonnie were known for decades as the Pumpkin farmers. While they retired from that a couple of years ago, they continue to fill their yard and its trees with decorations and lights.

I can give you directions: Go south from Vinton on Highway 218, and then turn left on 63rd Street. But you don’t need them. Once you get to the Garrison black top, you can clearly see the lights.

“We had a large crowd here for Thanksgiving dinner and with the warm temps everyone was ready to help decorate.” says Bonnie, of the annual decorating ritual. “It was pretty amazing how much you can get done when you have warmer weather.”
The wind has been an issue in getting the big trees decorated, said Bonnie, who told me when we stopped by that one more big tree still awaits some lights.  Hours will be the same as always: Dusk until 9:00 weekdays and dusk until 10:00 weekends.

The Smiley Face and Cabbage Patch dolls are among the Kersten displays.

After a few photos, which must have taken forever in little girl minutes (I learned when I got back in the car that I had “lied;” I didn’t come “right back.”) we headed back, going north on Highway 218 for the 101 Dalmatians and the rest of the decorations at the Kersten farm, where Heidi continues what her father, Larry, started more than 50 years ago.

By now, it’s around 5:30 and the camera is being passed around the back seats as we head to Center Point, where the newest display continues to bring visitors from all over. Along the way, we have to stop to get a closer look at a few other small yard displays, and the tree-shaped lights hanging on the pole near Urbana City Hall.
But eventually we get to Center Point, and head north of what the oldest granddaughter calls “McSubway,” the convenience store that has both restaurants. We go north a few miles until we se signs pointing right and directing us to turn our FM radio dials to 97.1 so we can hear the music that accompanies the lights.
Blue Creek Christmas fills a small subdivision a few miles north of Center Point, on the black top that leads north to Walker.
Aaron Maue and his family have been doing this for the past several years, using computers to choreograph the light displays and music, along with thousands of pixel lights that can shine virtually any color.
See a story about Blue Creek Christmas HERE.
We spent nearly a half hour there, watching the several different songs that play while the Maue yard (and the rest of the neighborhood) lights up in a variety of carefully timed flashing lights.
As it does every year, the Blue Creek Christmas includes a military tribute. This year, the large 180 degree and 360 degree pixel light trees glowed with the symbols of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines as a modern arrangement of the official military songs played.
In another tribute to veterans, the Maues will forward all donations to the Puppy Jake Foundation, which trains service dogs to help veterans and others with PTSD and other symptoms. The Maues began putting a wooden stocking near their driveway after many people offered to make donations. Each year, the family chooses a different organization to receive those donations. In the past years, they have collected a total of $43,000 in donations for a variety of causes.

The granddaughters took some photos with serendipitous camera settings that created unique designs, including this one. The white arcs are actually lighted, 3-feet-tall candy canes lined up in the yard.

I first heard of Blue Creek Christmas in December of 2014, while driving home from Cedar Rapids and a public service notice came over the radio. So, I took a detour, and immediately realized I had found a place to share with the granddaughters — and you.

The camera continued to make its rounds in the back seat, while the 6-year-old tried to make some videos with my phone. I took a couple of photos myself, but handed the camera back to the girls, who are each claiming their turn.
Finally, we have heard all of the songs in this year’s Blue Creek Christmas, and we are getting tired. But not too, tired, of course, to demand a potty break and ask for candy at the Urbana Casey’s.
We deliver the 3 Princesses to their Castle at around 7:30, where the 8-year-old immediately heads to bed and the 3-year-old enters asleep on my shoulder.
I come home to discover that the camera settings were not right for clear nighttime Christmas light photos, but perfect for some uniquely unintentional special-effects abstract photography.
See for yourself HERE.